Feature

CDs versus USB flash drives

USB flash drive

Credit: iStockphoto

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The USB data storage industry is worth roughly two thirds of its counterpart, but it's likely that it will overtake CDs and DVDs in the future.

A USB flash drive can survive 10,000 write/rewrite cycles, but the USB plug will only survive about 1,500 connections. On the other hand, you can use a rewritable CD about 1000 times before it gives up the ghost.

Unfortunately, rewritable CDs never gained widespread popularity because USBs came along, and people have favoured CDs more for permanent file storage.

Using ... and reusing

Of course, you can't use a CD or USB flash drive by itself.

A USB flash drive needs a USB port, which all new computers have. A USB flash drive has no moving parts, so it uses a negligible amount of energy to run the warning light and store energy when it's connected to the port.

But to store information on a CD, you need a CD drive, which requires a small motor to spin the CD and move the laser. Such a drive takes almost one watt of power when running, and accounts for one per cent of the energy (about 13 kWh) required to manufacture a PC.

Because of the mix of materials, especially metals, both CDs and USB flash drives are difficult to recycle.

This is true of most electronic waste, which makes up nearly five per cent of all solid urban waste worldwide - almost as much as plastic packaging.

A shallow victory?

There are no good figures available for the detailed environmental impact of these electronics, but in general, the USB drive is ahead by a nose: a lot goes into its manufacture, but it will get more use and doesn't require a special drive.

However, while a USB flash drive is more environment-friendly than a CD, like most electronic gadgets, it's still far from being green.

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